by William L. Needham
Protestant missionaries from North America now total over 3,000. They are spread around the world perhaps more widely than missionaries from any other continent. In recent years the distribution of these Christian workers has been altered, and we need to see the new patterns in light of our rapidly changing world.
Protestant missionaries from North America now total over 3,000. They are spread around the world perhaps more widely than missionaries from any other continent. In recent years the distribution of these Christian workers has been altered, and we need to see the new patterns in light of our rapidly changing world. New fields are opening; others are closing, and the conditions affecting resident missionaries have significantly shifted during the past decade. All of this will have impact on missions in the years ahead.
The 1970 edition of North American Protestant Ministries Overseas gives us a new picture of the way Protestant missionaries from this continent are spread across the globe. The directory shows the geographic distribution of about 96 percent of the overseas personnel, so we can develop a reasonably accurate view of the current fields of service and of changes that have occurred.
Major changes in the world political scene hays taken place just within the past decade, notably in the number of African nations gaining independence. These changes have affected the fields of missionary service. Some areas which have closed or have become more restrictive to resident missionaries include Cuba, Burma, Sudan, Angola, Guinea, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. Areas more open to Protestant missionary presence include Laos, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Portugal, Spain and Nepal. These changes and others emphasize that missionary opportunities are not static. They change, often abruptly, and openings for Christian witness must be seized wherever possible. The missionary force needs flexibility and mobility to take advantage of these changes.
Despite fluctuations, the North American portion of the total Protestant missionary force has generally increased since 1900. In recent years, North Americans have contributed about 70 percent of the world Protestant missionary staff.
During the past decade the distribution of North American Protestant missionaries has noticeably changed. Since the 1967 missions survey, Latin America has displaced Asia as the continent attracting the most missionaries. In 1969, 10,373 missionaries, or 32 percent of the total for whom areas of service were reported, were in Latin America. This compares with 25 percent in 1959. The percentage serving in Asia (including the Middle East) dropped from 38 percent in 1959 to 30 percent in 1969. Does this shift reflect a response to the rapidly growing evangelical church in Latin America, or a withdrawal from unresponsive fields?
Table 1: North American Protestant Missionaries by Continent
*Of those missionaries for whom geographic distribution was reported
The ranking of specific nations by the number of North American Protestant missionaries has changed little since 1967 but significantly since 1959. Brazil ranks first in number of Protestant missionaries from North America, with 2,170 reported for 1969. It was also ranked first in 1967, up from fifth in 1959. India, the nation receiving the most missionaries from this continent in 1959, now ranks third with 1,517. This drop reflects the policy of the Indian government to restrict the number of foreign missionaries in that nation. However, it still has more total missionaries than any other nation in the world (over 6,000). Japan continues to attract a large number of Protestant missionaries, with over 1,800 from North America reported in 1969, from 128 mission agencies. Japan ranks second in number of missionaries, a position that it has maintained since 1959. Another nation which has continued to attract large number of Protestant missionaries is Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. Over 1,400 missionaries from 45 Protestant agencies were reported in that West Africa nation in 1969, little changed from 1967, and up from about 1,200 in 1959.
Table 2: Nations Receiving the Most Protestant Missionaries from North America
1959 (Missionary total not available)
By contrast, more than two dozen nations with populations over 100,000 showed no Protestant missionaries from North America in 1969. These include most of the Communist-dominated nations, several predominantly Muslim countries (Mauritania, Southern Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait), some islands or island groups (Malta, British Virgin Is., Turks and Caicos Is., the Azores, Comoro Is., Madeira Is., Maldive Is., New Caledonia, Reunion Is., British Solomon Is., Portuguese Timor) and several small countries (Burma, Cambodia, Bhutan, Brunei, Gambia). Some North American Protestant missions report ministries in a few of these nations, apparently through national workers.
The status of some countries as Protestant mission fields has changed radically during the past decade.
The Portuguese government of Angola has placed increased restrictions on Protestant missionaries since 1961. It has refused to renew visas, banned Protestant worship services in the north, and restricted missionary travel. Ten North American Protestant agencies listed 50 personnel still in Angola in 1969.
Algeria has been forcing more Protestant missionaries to leave that nation, most recently in early 1970. Less than 90 missionaries were reported there in 1969 and that number has probably declined further.
The Communist-dominated government of Cuba has been forcing missionaries to leave the island. All American missionaries were reported out by 1969.
Many missionaries to Iraq were forced to leave that nation in the late 1950’s and mission property was confiscated. Further restrictions were placed on foreigners following the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and only two missionaries were listed in that nation in 1969.
Burma forced all Western missionaries to leave by 1966 although a strong national church has carried on much of the work formerly done by missionaries.
All missionaries were expelled from the southern Sudan in 1964, but they have been able to continue teaching, literature distribution and camp ministries in the northern areas. Two North American Protestant missions still report work in the Sudan and list 16 personnel.
In the West African nation of Guinea, the government decided to "Africanize" missions in 1967 and most missionaries were forced to leave, although some remain. In 1969, only one North American Protestant agency reported personnel in Guinea.
The Muslim government of Somalia has long had restrictions on missionary activity in that corner of Africa. Protestant missionaries have been in the country only since the mid-1950’s and recent reports indicate that restrictions on missionary activity are increasing. Only two missions reported having personnel in Somalia in 1969.
India, the nation with more Christian missionaries than any other (over 6,000), continues to restrict the number of foreign missionary personnel and their total has been declining. Replacements of personnel are permitted but new missionaries are generally unable to obtain visas. Missionaries are also being removed from certain border areas. Despite these restrictions, over 1,500 North American Protestant missionaries were shown in India in 1369, from 124 agencies.
Afghanistan, long a completely closed area, is now allowing Christian workers in various service ministries. In 1969, six North American Protestant agencies reported a total staff of six. Open preaching is still prohibited but the first organized Christian church in Afghan history (for foreigners only) was opened in 1970.
Cambodia forced all North American missionaries to leave in 1965 following a break in diplomatic relations with the United States. In mid-1970, American missionaries were again being permitted to return to that nation.
Indonesia has been more open to missionary work following an anti-Communist coup in 1965. Numerous revivals and conversions have been reported from various parts of the country. Over 50 North American Protestant agencies were listed for Indonesia in 1969, with over 600 missionaries.
In the Roman Catholic-dominated European nations of Portugal and Spain, increased Protestant activity has been permitted in recent years and Protestant missionaries are growing in numbers. North American Protestant missionaries to the two nations total well over 100.
Overseas missions in the decade of the 1970’s will involve new methods, new programs and new fields of ministry. The shifting political scene across the globe will constantly challenge church and mission leaders to be flexible in their strategies and to be prepared for new opportunities. They should be planning now to take advantage of the slowly opening borders of some nations and the potential future openness of others. Planning for tomorrow’s world must begin today.
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